To SPARC Your Appetite

By Roger Sumner (Member of the Symposium Planning Committee)

When SPARC’s Symposium Project Coordinator, Felicity Buckell first spelled out the acronym “SPARC,” I heard it as a command:

“Support Performing Artists in Rural Communities!”

…and I thought: what could be simpler? Pay them and feed them.

Performance is hungry work. Creativity craves calories. Spend any amount of time with actors, dancers, musicians and not only will you see some of the most ravenous eaters you’ve ever met, but also some of the pickiest.

And I don’t mean to make fun: picky eating is an essential survival skill in the age of Industrial Food, where everything comes in a box that came in a box of boxes from a pile of boxes at the Big Box that came out of a big box towed by an engine box.

How can we then be expected to think “outside the box” when we eat out of a box?

Luckily, rural performers have one big advantage, in that we’re rural. Some places, there’s nothing much out there other than farms. Some places, the most exciting way to spend a Saturday is at the farmer’s market. That’s where communities are and community is where the arts begin.

But how does art, food and business all actually connect? Let’s count three words, exactly: “Go. To. Market.”

Many summers ago I put on a funny hat and journeyed to the struggling Elora market where I would spend a few hours shouting for tips. “Joke for a Buck! You don’t Laugh, You don’t Pay!” (Just for practice, you understand.) With an audience of under two hundred shoppers a week, I still made enough to buy most of my weekly groceries fresh from the farmers.

I’ve been working markets ever since, on both sides of the table. What better way to get what you need to get through the week? And I’m not only talking about amazing eats, but also the connections to grow your business and build an audience. It’s likely the coolest, most community-oriented folk in your area visit your local market every week, even if they don’t hold down a booth.

 These days, in the Temiskaming Shores area, my partner Marie and I sling “Coffee and TeaMiskaming” at the Riverside Market. (We have just enough raspberry leaves, mint, and other herbs coming out of our small backyard garden to qualify as a local producer.) We sell a few batches of wheat-free cookies and muffins, infused oils, that sort of thing. I am one of those picky eaters myself, so we aim for healthy, special-diet-friendly treats.

Markets are a great place to make contacts. We are honestly not looking for work: Marie’s a professional engineer and I mostly stay at home writing and feeding blueberries to our three-year-old. But just talking to folk at our market table, we’ve fielded regular offers for writing, acting and catering gigs. Markets are goldmines for community awareness, networking, and connecting people to new and innovative projects. Rather than re-inventing the wheel, why not simply tap into these time-honoured networking traditions that naturally bring people together over food? 

And of course our presence at the market has led us to the table for SPARC 2018. We’ve tapped into and expanded upon our market sources for local meat, eggs, dairy, and produce: working directly with local farmers, restaurants, and millers to bring the very best of Timiskaming to your SPARC Symposium plate each morning, noon, and night. The food in the region has uniquely delicious qualities we want to share with others, and doesn’t that link so nicely with art and culture that makes you think, try, and explore new things?

We don’t want to give it all away this early in the game, but think “Canadiana” breakfasts with blueberry buckwheat pancakes, go-for-broke burger barbecue, First Nation’s fare, and old-fashioned pig and lamb roast-out. Pike, perch, and arctic char are all possibilities on the fish front in our region. But fear not: there will be gourmet vegetarian and wheat-free options for all meals. (Please leave a comment if you have any particular dietary requirements.)

We also plan to have all-day snack and sandwich counters at our full-service kitchen in the gorgeous Cobalt Community Hall. Coffee will of course make its appearance, including regular brewed and hot or cold espresso-based treats. Marie will likely keep a pot of chai going alongside a selection of teas and other beverages. We can’t promise kombucha yet, but you can keep your fingers crossed

Also: bacon. We have a line on some bacon that – well, some things just don’t translate to text. But keep your fingers crossed (and get to breakfast early).

Friday night we close the kitchen to prepare for our Saturday feast. This means we shall release you into the wilds of Timiskaming to forage for your own fodder.  (Morels should be up by then, one of the most desired wild mushrooms in the world, so you may desire to go hunting and gathering for them yourselves if you feel adventurous! I recently heard an old prospector swear up and down that he once lived for weeks off boiled birch leaves.)

Or if you prefer to have someone else track your food, you can visit one of our partner restaurants, many of which will be featuring performances by local artists and musicians during the dinner hour.

Are we leaving you hungry? Well: good. Go have a snack and come back to this page later on. You’ll find regular updates on food, performances, workshops and more in our symposium section.

Otherwise, see you at mealtime!

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